Heads up, could by-law changes (Thursday 10-Dec) risk housing security for rental & strata residents across Vancouver? (Zones affected: RM-2, RM-3, RM-3A, RM-4, RM-4N, RM-5, RM-5A, RM-5B, RM-5C, RM-5D, RM-6, and FM-1)

Areas affected by the proposed by-law changes are across the city, in these zones – RM-2, RM-3, RM-3A, RM-4, RM-4N, RM-5, RM-5A, RM-5B, RM-5C, RM-5D, RM-6, and FM-1

[Update: The Public Hearing has recessed and will continue on Thursday, December 10th at 6pm with item #6.] You can still write or speak to Council. See agenda and documents here: https://council.vancouver.ca/20201202/ph20201202.htm

Do you live in one of these zones: in zoning for RM-2, RM-3, RM-3A, RM-4, RM-4N, RM-5, RM-5A, RM-5B, RM-5C, RM-5D, RM-6, and FM-1? If you are not sure, please see “Where can I find a zoning district map of Vancouver? Here’s where.” After reading below, if you are concerned you may wish to write or speak to Council (online via city website here). At the time of writing (1:40 pm), no correspondence for this item has been listed on the public hearing web page, and we expect that no speakers have signed up, as the importance has been under-estimated.

Here is an item that was brought to our attention by a concerned citizen. It is Item 6 on the agenda for the Public Hearing tonight, 2-Dec-2020 (Wed) [Update: the Public Hearing will reconvene on Dec 10th at 6pm and begin with this item, #6]. We provide links to the related documents at the bottom. This item has flown under the radar, because, quoting from official report: “Staff consider this a minor amendment [to the bylaws] and do not see any risks associated with the proposed amendment.

However, we think this is urgent and important, and could have significant risks.

Two important by-laws are scheduled to be approved at the Public Hearing tonight, and enter into force just six days later, on December 8, 2020:
– “By-law to amend the Rental Housing Stock Official Development Plan”
– “A By-law to amend various District Schedules of the Zoning and Development By-law…”

The detailed documents were just made public a few days ago, and some citizens and experts have nervously noticed only today that these proposed changes, while justified by staff for just one property tonight at the public hearing, actually affect hundreds or thousands of affordable housing units (rental and strata) all across Vancouver. It appears that the bylaw and zoning changes could theoretically threaten housing security of thousands of people, even while consultation on the citywide Vancouver Plan is slowing trudging alone. It gets detailed, but here is the gist.

We are concerned that if approved as proposed by staff, the bylaw amendments could result in the loss of older three-storey walk-up apartments in neighbourhoods across the city. Could the proposed bylaw amendments enable the eviction and displacement of current tenants and the demolition of existing, fully occupied, affordable housing, to be replaced with new rentals at higher rental costs? Have Council and staff really considered the potential risks, impacts, and unintended consequences?

Below is one frightful scenario. We hope that Vancouver’s chief planner will assure Council that this is not possible …

If these bylaw amendments pass, an owner of a rental building in one of the zoning districts indicated could approach a nearby strata building and purchase the property (if majority of owners approve). Then dismantle the strata building, apply to rezone the strata property, build a new rental building on a 1 for 1+ ratio of the existing rental, and offer the new units to the tenants of the existing rental. Then tear the old rental building down and build a new condo (or rental) at market rates. Plus, the height of the new buildings would no doubt climb quickly. 

Could that scenario open the flood gates for the elimination of so-called “missing middle” ownership and affordable rental near the city centre, and at the same time accelerate the trend for higher building heights? As one example, the northeast quadrant of Mount Pleasant is full of older 3-storey rental apartments and 3-storey strata buildings. Could the proposed bylaw amendments keep the bulldozers busy in this neighbourhood? (With the associated evictions, community displacement, and escalation of the cost of housing?)

As mentioned, the two proposed by-laws are set to be approved at the Public hearing, and enter into force just six days later, on December 8. The primary and official impetus for this recommendation by City staff is for Item 7 on the agenda (just one rezoning at 349 East 6th Avenue, which is also the major focus of the entire 3-Nov-2020 staff report which was the basis for Council to send this item to today’s Public Hearing).

However, the detailed documents, including actual proposed text changes to two bylaws (the Zoning and Development By-law, and the Rental Housing Stock Official Development Plan), actually affect potentially a large but unknown number of sites across the city, in zoning for RM-2, RM-3, RM-3A, RM-4, RM-4N, RM-5, RM-5A, RM-5B, RM-5C, RM-5D, RM-6, and FM-1 District Schedules. (See our post here to identify zoning districts in Vancouver.) Staff made these detailed documents available to Council and the public just a few days ago.

We hope that Vancouver’s chief planner will ensure these scenarios are not possible of playing out and our fears are not necessary.

325 East 6th Avenue (left), 349 East 6th Avenue (right), middle photo shows both sites

It would will probably take a professional planner to clarify this, and it should be discussed and rectified officially, but we hope that as a minimum City Council will get formal clarification on record from the planner (Dan Garrison, Assistant Director – Housing Policy & Regulation) who authored the report. But preferably, something more official to Council with the weight of authority of the City’s General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability (i.e., chief planner) Gil Kelley (e.g., a “Yellow Memo,” basically, a last-minute but still official memo). If staff cannot prepare adequately for this response to Council we think the item should be pulled from the agenda until staff CAN do so.

For one thing, the only map provided with all the related documentation is this one on the left. It only references the one specific site in question. We believe that for proper preparation for this Public Hearing, staff should have (and before any Public Hearing to change zoning bylaws) provided City Council and the public with a map of Vancouver explicitly showing the affected areas (in this case, all twelve (12) zoning districts), as well as an impact assessment. The one sentence by staff saying these are “minor amendments” and have no risk, quoted above, does not cut it. How does the chief planner define “minor” and “risk”?

For example staff should indicate how many properties actually fall under these proposed changes? Where are the zones on a map of the city? What are the risks and possible unintended consequences, and what should/will the City do to mitigate them through actual by-law text?

This topic of city-wide changes to zoning policy, described as a “minor amendment” again raises concerns about how the City is proceeding with significant bylaw, development and policy decisions, affecting areas all across the city, even while purportedly engaged in the citywide “Vancouver Plan” process.

Council Council needs to put its foot down and give the Vancouver Plan process more integrity and respect.

***********
Added: Quote from Nov 3 staff report: “Should this amendment to the RHS ODP not be approved, then the
proposed redevelopment of 349 East 6th Avenue would be at variance with the RHS ODP, and in
contravention of section 563(2) of the Vancouver Charter, so staff would have to reconsider the
status of that application.

Comment: Some staff clarification is needed. If more time is needed to address the worries mentioned above, staff or Council have the power to pull this item from the agenda, to allow time for more work. A short delay should not be a problem for just one rezoning, particularly if the staff have failed to provide adequate information.

Question: Is it really necessary to change the District Schedules of the Zoning and Development By-law for all the zones immediately (RM-2, RM-3, RM-3A, RM-4, RM-4N, RM-5, RM-5A, RM-5B, RM-5C, RM-5D, RM-6, and FM-1) for this specific application at 349 East 6th to go ahead?  Is there a way to allow this application, but postpone the rest of the proposed change for more public notification/consultation/transparency, and to have consider it as part of Vancouver Plan process?

***********

Some possible concerns/threats from the proposed bylaw amendments, from the Mount Pleasant perspective.
Here are excerpts or parts of the Mount Pleasant Community Plan which to which these bylaw amendment threaten or fail to respect:
… provide affordable housing which respects neighbourhood character
… preserving, replacing and expanding Mount Pleasant’s stock of rental housing
… valued assets include … a large inventory of relatively affordable housing including rental and social housing.

3.3 built form and character
… with new development, keep the neighbourhood context always in mind.

4.9 Heritage
… apply the broader definition of heritage for MP that goes beyond buildings and includes streetscapes.

5.1 UPTOWN SHOPPING AREA
…. Retain older more affordable housing (eg. 3 story walkups) for low income families and individuals.

************

OTHER REFERENCES

CityHallWatch: Public Hearing Dec 2 (Wed): 7280 Fraser, 1265 Kingsway, 349 East 6th, Rental Housing ODP, and more (2-Dec-2020)

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OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS

Public Hearing agenda and documents
https://council.vancouver.ca/20201202/ph20201202.htm

Staff summary

Click to access phea6summary.pdf

A By-law to amend various District Schedules of the Zoning and Development By-law to reflect an amendment to the Rental Housing Stock Official Development Plan

Click to access phea6bylawZD.pdf

A By-law to amend the Rental Housing Stock Official Development Plan

Click to access phea6bylawODP.pdf

 

 

2 thoughts on “Heads up, could by-law changes (Thursday 10-Dec) risk housing security for rental & strata residents across Vancouver? (Zones affected: RM-2, RM-3, RM-3A, RM-4, RM-4N, RM-5, RM-5A, RM-5B, RM-5C, RM-5D, RM-6, and FM-1)

  1. Thanks for all your work! Question: why do the legal descriptions of land property sites say ’District Lot New Westminister’ ? thanks Chris whyte Vancouver

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